Cricketing thoughts

Published : Oct 25, 2002 00:00 IST

RAMACHANDRA Guha's book A Corner of a Foreign Field (Picador India, Rs.495) is an unusual book on cricket. It is not wholly about runs, run-outs, batting and bowling. It is a socio-political history of the game as it has developed in India over the past 200 years. Guha writes, "For the social historian, mass sport is a sphere of activity that expresses, in concentrated form, the values, prejudices, divisions and unifying symbols of a society" and he goes on to say, "... the cricket field was both a theatre of imperial power and of Indian resistance. The career of Palwankar Baloo illuminates the operations of that unique (and uniquely dreadful) human institution, caste".

Cricket mania is a wholly unexpected legacy of imperialism. The hold it has got on the imagination of the people of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka is something quite extraordinary.

My wife comes from the former ruling family of Patiala. Her brother, Amarinder Singh, the present Chief Minister of Punjab, was unsuccessfully coached by Lala Amarnath, who spent many years serving Maharaja Bhupinder Singh. He makes several appearances in Guha's book. When I was researching for my biography of Maharaja Bhupinder Singh, I discovered how much time and money he spent on cricket. Guha, if I am not mistaken, does not mention the fact that the great Ranji served as A.D.C. to Bhupinder Singh's father, Rajendra Singh, who helped the future ruler of Nawanagar financially. On page 152, Guha makes an absurd observation on Bhupinder Singh. "A controversy was averted when the Maharaja of Patiala expressed a desire to play for the Hindus, encouraged, one suspects, by the hope of a handshake with the Prince of Wales." Bhupinder Singh knew the Prince of Wales (a highly dislikable individual) well since 1911 and was to play host to the Prince in Patiala a few days later.

I have digressed enough. What I intended to write was the appalling commercialisation of a great game. Young men in their early twenties have become the darlings and victims of the sponsors, who are not always motivated by the love or lure of cricket but the lucre it gets them. Then there is the all pervasive satta in which hundreds of crores change hands and the Income Tax Department just looks and can do nothing. The amounts top Indian cricket players make are truly staggering. Sachin Tendulkar is a national icon as Bradman was in Australia. It just happens that Tendulkar, apart from being a genius, is also by all accounts an unusually decent and upright young man. He is a role model in every sense of the word. Nevertheless at least two outstanding Indian cricketers have had their careers ruined because monetary temptation got the better of them. Here Pakistan excels us.

This brings me to the odious activity called "Match Fixing". The Pakistanis too have their flourishing satta bazaar. It all began when an Australian tycoon named Kerry Packer altered the nature and character of the game by introducing the revolutionary one-day game. Cronje is the most glaring and tragic example of a match fixer ruining his life. He was remaking it when he was killed in an air crash a few months ago.

Something also needs to be done to keep a watch on the finance of the Cricket Control Board. I am told it is loaded with money and at present headed by an individual who needs to improve both his Hindi and English.

I am a cricket buff and enjoy watching the game on TV Like the great Cambridge Mathematician G.H. Hardy (he discovered Ramanujan) who spent hours at Fenners the Mecca of Cambridge Cricket, I too ask if so and so in politics, literature or music is in the Bradman class. Sir Don, whom I met once, was a man of incandescent integrity and shining character. Tendulkar, whose style Bradman compared with his own, has it in him to be the second Bradman of course he will never average 99.4. Sans that he should become our greatest cricketing asset.

All these rambling thoughts are the result of the cricketing anti-climax millions watched on two successive days in late September when India was well on the way to beat Sri Lanka on both days. One knew the high potential of Jayasuriya and his team, but it was ominous to witness their influence over the rain gods!

Let me add that Guha's book, in spite of its prolixity, is an original work of great distinction. Cricket is not just a game but a way of life. `This is not cricket' even today settles an argument among gentlemen. We all talk of betting as a sticky wicket, stonewalling, political googlies, of being stumped in a discussion and caught off guard. But nothing equals what a late senior colleague of mine in the IFS did to cricketing language. Tony Agate was my boss for a while in the Ministry of External Affairs. During the Second World War he had been seriously wounded in the head and gradually he lost grip over his memory, but not his sense of humour. One day I sent up to him the leave application of an Assistant working in my division. I supported the leave asked for. By the evening the file was back on my table with L.B.W. written on the application. I was totally nonplussed and went to Tony to enlighten me. "Who selected you for the Foreign Service, you so and so. L.B.W. means Let the B... .r wait!"

ON October 1, 2002 a function was held in Parliament House, New Delhi. President Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam unveiled the statues of four eminent Indians Gopinath Bordoloi, C. N. Annadurai, S. Satyamurti and Pasumpon Muthuramalinga Thevar. Not one of the four crossed 60, but each left his distinctive mark on our regional and national life. It is befitting that we honour our great compatriots. However, we should do so with more restraint, discipline and dignity. The Vice-President and the Prime Minister were present, but the photocracy made its own noisy contribution and the Security Contingent was just as conspicuous. The whole event made one feel both annoyed and distressed.

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